Mental Health: It’s Okay Not To Be Okay

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and frankly, we can’t think of a more appropriate time to be talking about mental health than right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As a nation, we are anxious and stressed. Uncertainty looms. The threat of illness and death as a result of the novel coronavirus is real.

Fortunately, our society has changed. People are open to discussing their anxieties. They’re willing to acknowledge that they see a therapist or take medication for depression. But there’s still a degree of stigma associated with mental health disorders among the aging population, even though the World Health Organization estimates that 15% of all persons over 60 suffer from a mental health issue. 

What To Look For In Your Aging Loved One

Chicago Methodist Senior Home Care lists four warning signs of mental health issues. They are:

  1. Memory Loss
  2. Changes in Personal Home Care
  3. Social Withdrawal
  4. Changes in Mood

It’s worth noting that some of these warning signs may naturally occur as your loved one ages and that they are interconnected with each other. For example, age-related memory loss might lead to changes in Personal Home Care—mom forgot to bathe this week. Or an aging father whose eyesight is failing may choose not to attend those weekly or monthly social functions, making him appear to be withdrawing socially.

Instead of assuming the worst when you observe one of these warning signs, monitor all four and watch for changes. 

What To Do

As you deal with an aging loved one, be sensitive to their prevailing perspectives of the older generation. If you try to address the issue head on—”mom, I think you’re depressed or have bipolar disorder”—you’re sure to  experience a wall of resistance. 

If you address your concerns in the context of a solution—“I wonder if your doctor can recommend a medication to help keep this from happening”—you can open the door to get professional help

In addition, many churches and other houses of faith offer counseling services or even professional therapy. In a religious context, many older individuals are accustomed to the idea of speaking with their minister about their lives, so that may provide an outlet from processing emotions or address other issues. 

As we try to help our parents age in place with grace and dignity, finding a way to sensitively guide them toward real help for mental health issues is an important way to honor them.